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Young voters proved everyone wrong this election, and we’re not about to stop campaigning

Author:
corbsisadorbs

By Amy Callaghan

In the UK’s general election on the 8th of June, the exit polls predicted a shock result which was irreconcilable with the state of British politics when Theresa May called the election on the 18th of April. At that time, the Tories were expected to at the very least hold on to, and indeed likely substantially increase, their parliamentary majority, giving Theresa May a greater mandate and aiding her legitimacy in Brexit negotiations. The Labour Party awaited decimation. However, the exit polls predicted a hung Parliament, and as the night went on, it became increasingly clear that the Conservative party could not expect to form a majority government this time around. At the time of writing, the Conservatives hold 318 seats, losing 12, and Labour hold 261 seats, gaining 29. The reason for this transformation in the political landscape bringing about an unexpected victory for the political left? Young voter turnout.

72% is the estimated turnout figure for voters aged 18-24 (although the veracity of this figure and other turnout figures is unlikely to be confirmed for around a week), a massive increase on the estimated 43% turnout in the last general election, and higher even than their turnout at the EU referendum, which was around 64%. This huge upswing in engagement among young voters marks a significant shift in establishment politics, which relies more heavily than they will admit on apathetic young voters – in fact, the Sun ran a feature online on the day of the election this year on how to actively prevent young people from voting. While the piece is obviously writing in a joking tone, the message is nothing short of repellent – claiming that young people will ‘do the wrong thing’ at the polls as though their views on their future matter less than the accepted and established Conservative perspective more favoured by older voters.

The Conservative party themselves did not do much to engage young voters, particularly in comparison with the Labour party. While the Labour party encouraged young people to register to vote and then get out and vote consistently throughout their campaign, the Tories did not use social media to encourage voter registration at all during theirs. This is evidently a deliberate lack of engagement with young voters, as the Conservatives are aware that young voters tend to lean much more towards progressive parties and politics. Their high turnout marks an important shift in British politics which will hopefully persist in the future.

Another vital benefit of increasing young voter engagement and turnout is the balancing effect it has on the bias present in traditional media such as television and newspapers. Young people are significantly more likely to engage in politics on social media rather than in newspapers, allowing a counteraction of the bias present in overwhelmingly right-wing media sources, which often blatantly lie and misrepresent Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. Even in viewing television debates, young voters are more likely to read reactions and responses to the debates on social media rather than in newspapers. This helps to account for the success of Corbyn and the Labour party, surprising to many – the negative portrayal and scaremongering within traditional media led many (including more liberal publications such as the Guardian) to believe success was utterly unlikely, yet online engagement of young voters was evidently hugely effective in changing the result.

Hopefully this result will show young people the power they have to effect change in British politics. Many disillusioned by the Brexit result (which did not reflect their views or interests) channelled this frustration and fury into thoroughly knocking the wind out of the Tories’ sails, as demonstrated by the election results. This sends a message to the British establishment – do not underestimate or ignore young people – but it also sends a message to young people themselves. We can affect change – we can massively alter the results expected and established. The Tories are in a significantly weakened state rather than a position of enormous power – thanks to us. Maintaining this engagement and energy means opposition in months and years to follow can be effective and empowering. Young people have proven that we can change the face of British politics, and we certainly intend to continue.

Being an MP is not for me

Author:

By Becky Dudley

meninparliament

Parliament: it’s a man’s world. To be more specific, it’s a straight, white, middle class man’s world. For something that’s meant to be representing our society as a whole, it’s doing a pretty awful job. What we need, more than anything, is far more people who aren’t straight, white, middle class and male to be in Parliament, representing all those currently lost in the sea of identical faces. However, with the way things stand, I, for one, will not be one of them. Despite wanting to prove a point and do what we’re not ‘meant’ to, I do not want to work in Parliament. I’m here to tell you why.

Firstly, let’s look at some statistics. In the last election, 650 people became Members of Parliament. 147 of these were women. That’s around 23% –  hardly representative of the UK population, which is 51% female. The statistics for ethnicity and class are just as bad (if not worse), and each are deserving of their own post; I could rant for hours on any of these. For now, however, I’m going to stick to looking at the statistic for women.

To try and rectify the obvious inequalities, quotas were introduced. To my mind, quotas are like Marmite – you either love them or you hate them. Like Marmite, I’ve not yet decided which side I’m on. However, what the quotas have done is given rise to new terminology – for example, ‘Blair’s Babes’ and ‘Cameron’s Cuties’. Both of these terms – which refer to the group of women working for the relevant Prime Minister – make me feel genuinely sick. They are demoralising, demeaning and downright disgusting. The use of the surname and possessive apostrophe signifies that all the women in these groups belong to the Prime Minister – playing into the ever-present objectification of women. Meanwhile, the use of ‘Babes’ and ‘Cuties’ reduces the women to pretty faces, to sex symbols. These women are all there on their own merit – they are far more deserving than these descriptions make them seem.

This is not the only problem that these women are facing. For women in Parliament, there is no way of being right. When they appear in the media, their clothing and appearance choices are far more likely to be commented on than anything else. There’s a plethora of negative stories, with each female Member of Parliament having faced their own equally awful battles, revolving around sexist comments, unfair media representation, and even discrimination based on their having children – regardless of the fact that men, too, have children and childcare responsibilities.

Even the physical representation inside Parliament is hugely biased. Whilst walking around on a recent tour, we noticed one female statue: that of Margaret Thatcher. We also played a ‘game’ of ‘Spot the Women’ with a painting of the House of Commons in session. It was far harder than the average game of ‘Where’s Wally?’.

But these all come into effect later on, once you’ve gained your votes and got the right to your bum on a seat. There are perils to face beforehand, too. To get in to Parliament, it seems that you must do two things: know the right people, and take up social drinking. Both of these are pretty exclusionary. For a start, how many average members of society have the necessary connections to get them into – or even near – Parliament? A quick survey of the eleven people I am sat with finds that no-one has these connections. Moreover, it follows that if connections are needed, then there’s likely to be a ‘sort’ of person who has them, a theory as close as proven by a look at the current government.

To look at the second option, social drinking, it’s clear that there are fundamental flaws here too. In 2009, it was found that around 15% of people in England are tee-total – they abstain from drinking alcohol, for religious, personal or other reasons. This means that 15% of the population wouldn’t be able to follow this route at all. Even for those who do drink, it’s a pretty dismal concept. What it’s saying is that, to gain a job in Parliament, you must firstly become just like every other person in Parliament. In short, you must become ‘one of the guys’.

With all of this in mind, the only conclusion I can find is one I would much rather not come to: Parliament is unrepresentative, and it’s unrepresentative for a reason. If it’s not hard enough for women to get in in the first place, life gets even harder once they’re there. I take my hat off to each and every woman working in Parliament – I couldn’t do it. It’s no wonder that the statistics are so awful. We need this to change, and we need it urgently. However, this can’t be a small change – every new woman in Parliament is a success for us all, but we need more. We need a huge, drastic change. We need 51% of the Members of Parliament to be women – something that the 50:50 Parliament campaign is currently fighting to achieve. We need to have our statues, our pictures, of women. We need the media to report on what we’re actually doing, not on what we’re wearing or looking like. In short, we have yet more need to start the revolution.

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